Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Montreal's Masters of Athletic Artistry

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Montreal's Masters of Athletic Artistry

Article excerpt

IN a dingy white-tiled room that measures about 10 by 16 feet, 10 dancers run up, climb, and bounce off the walls. They also drag one other around, twist and twirl, and fall limp as rag dolls in each other's arms. Women lift men and balance them on their backs; men hurl women through the air.

It is one hour and 17 minutes, sans intermission, of "La Chambre Blanche" (The White Room), the latest creation by O Vertigo Danse, a French-Canadian dance company.

Performing at the Joyce Theater in New York earlier this month, O Vertigo dancers displayed a style that combines astonishing athletic artistry with frenetic intensity.

The Montreal-based company, under the direction of choreographer Ginette Laurin, has enjoyed a growing international reputation since she founded it in 1984. Ms. Laurin, who trained as a gymnast, pushes the limits of how bodies can contort and bend, leap and lift.

Stephane Roy's handsome set is a sanatorium-like room, with tiny, almost unreachable windows. In the back, an entryway reveals a chamber where water drips from a faucet into a basin. The room, which resembles an old bathhouse, is cold and bleak.

The dance is not as much a story with a conclusive ending as it is a whirlwind of kinetic energy and emotions, a physical expression of mental turmoil in a darkened world.

The curtain opens on six women and four men dressed in underwear who are lying, standing, or striking various poses. They begin muttering in French and English. Some of the words are gibberish; others are intelligible. Throughout the piece dancers sing, chant, laugh, and pray.

They often pair off: Men partner men; women partner women; men partner women. They engage in duets and solos. Men run feverishly up the wall and cling with their elbows to the narrow window ledges trying to reach the light. Women stand on tiptoe and tread nimbly across the stage.

During the performance, dancers move in and out of the chamber; some linger at the faucet and wash themselves. The women return with black dresses they haphazardly throw over themselves on stage, while the men change into black pants and shirts. …

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